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Friday, July 20, 2007

Editorial on environmental developments

Comments on environmental news in June for SENSE newsletter:

The latest rumour going through civil society's grist mill is that the Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism (DEAT) is where idealism goes to die. Imagine it, wet-behind-the-ears graduates join DEAT to save our environment from wholesale devastation so that tourists can trample through the fynbos, hold 4x4 parties on pristine beaches, get lost on Table Mountain, and get so blinded on farmers witblits that fights break out over whether the springbok is part of the big five or tight five; all in the name of sucking as much pounds, euros and dollars out of them as we possibly can.

Then what happens? One minute the rank and file at DEAT are reeling from the latest disaster predictions to come out of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Africa is in for a beating, by the way), the next minute their beloved leader, Minister Van Schalkwyk, has signed off on a new coal-fired power station, increasing South Africa's carbon emissions by 25%. The Minister should really be kinder to his staff; they probably need counselling. Speaking counselling, the collective consciousness of Eskom also needs book itself in for lengthy time on the couch.

If Nero fiddled while Rome burned, the chaps at Eskom are throwing lumps of coal, petrol and uranium 238 onto the bonfire of climate change and local pollution. Their reasoning? Our generating capacity has been outstripped by demand (hence, SENSE will soon return to carrier pigeon for distribution) and we cannot supply electricity to everyone at the same, so we must A) turn off the lights, B) build more coal power stations, C) build more nuclear stations, D) give away electricity to heavy industry (the Alcan smelter, for example), E) tell ordinary citizens, who account for only 17% of all electricity usage, they must cut back and not boil water, and F) fail to even consider a different way of generating electricity that may just save the very planet we happen to live on. Obviously, the guys and gals at Eskom seem to think that good replacement planets are easy to find.

In related news, SASOL is goose-stepping its way to global domination with plans to build coal-to-oil plants in China, India, Nigeria, USA and Australia. Apart from the Peak Oil denialists (offspring of climate change denialists), the expansion of coal-to-oil technology will only increase coal prices while doing nothing to reduce oil prices. So, dear readers, stock hint for this month: Go long on coal and oil, for the price is only going one way. As Mike Bowlin, CEO of the oil company ARCO, once said, "We’ve embarked on the last days of the age of oil."

The machinations of global finance grind on. The latest is that both Davos and the IMF are urging Africa to privatise its energy market; that worked real well in California with those honest and kind-hearted folks at Enron actively manipulating power supply to drive up prices. Despite this brand of free market fundamentalism having completely failed African development over the last twenty-odd years, the Government of Botswana is selling off generating plant to the Japanese.

The good news is that local opposition to the Alcan smelter in Port Elizabeth continues to grow with a Friends of Live Earth concert to be held on the 7th of July (the main concert is in Jozi on the same day). The PE concert will focus on Alcan and the Coega Development Corporation's role as handmaiden to environmental destruction. One can only hope the leaders of this country will listen to the people of this country. Would make a nice change.

Tristen Taylor
Energy Policy Officer
Earthlife Africa Jhb

More here.



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